Tag Archives: debt and deficits

Downgrading Moody’s

Moody’s threatened to downgrade Spain’s debt yesterday. Why do we pay any attention to anything they, or the other ratings agencies, say?

In conclusion, I have tried to show that Moody’s managers deliberately engineered a change to its culture intended to ensure that rating analysis never jeopardized market share and revenue. They accomplished this both by rewarding those who collaborated and punishing those who resisted…The adjusted European CLO Rating Factor Table appears to have been adopted for the sole purpose of preserving Moody’s European CLO market share despite the fact that it might have resulted in Moody’s assigning ratings that were wrong by as much as one and a half to two notches….every single investor in a Moody’s rated European CLO may have a claim against Moody’s for damages associated with the fact that their CLO investments were not priced correctly.

Testimony from Mark Froeba, former Moody’s Senior Vice President, to the US Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, June 2nd 2010.

‘Europe is Dying’

If the financial sector can be rescued only by cutting back social spending on Social Security, health care and education, bolstered by more privatization sell-offs, is it worth the price? To sacrifice the economy in this way would violate most peoples’ social values of equity and fairness rooted deep in Enlightenment philosophy.

Superb, if lengthy analysis from Michael Hudson, Distinguished Research Professor at the University of Missouri at Kansas City: Europe’s Fiscal Dystopia: The “New Austerity” Road to Neoserfdom.

His argument is along similar lines to my Cameron’s Deceitful Cuts Rhetoric

Adam Smith and the Cuts

The Institute that takes the name of Adam Smith (wholly in vain in my view) has been in the forefront of the expenditure cut propagandists. They have produced, in the guise of impartial analysis, two documents that start with their desired conclusions and proceed by the use of pseudo-logic and misdirection. The great Kirkcaldy moral philosopher and economist will be spinning in his grave if he has had the misfortune of posthumously reading these travesties.

Firstly, the Institute’s co-director, Dr Eamonn Butler has produced a document apparently rather cleverly called ‘Re-booting Government’. In fact, the correct computer analogy would be ‘Re-installing a cheap and cut-down operating system sold to you by a dodgy guy in the local computer repair shop’! It starts with an economic premise that is simply wrong: Continue reading Adam Smith and the Cuts

Cameron’s Deceitful Cuts Rhetoric

David Cameron says he wants an apology from Labour for the state of the economy. But his approach to the budget deficit is either one of the most mendacious or one of the most ignorant ever made by a British Prime Minister. By using half-truths and gross over-simplifications Cameron has shifted the blame for the financial crisis and its aftermath from the reckless and probably fraudulent behaviour of traders of financial assets to the ‘irresponsible economic management’ of the previous government. By implication the hapless ordinary British voter is also guilty, and is going to feel the righteous pain of public service and job cuts. We are quite likely heading for one of the most unjust periods of governance Britain has ever known. Continue reading Cameron’s Deceitful Cuts Rhetoric

Willem Buiter on Debt and Deficits

Edinburgh from the Scott Monument
Edinburgh from the Scott Monument
Last night, here in Edinburgh, I attended a fascinating lecture by Willem Buiter, founding member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee and author of the celebrated (in certain circles!) Maverecon blog on the Financial Times website. Sadly, the blog is discontinued as Professor Buiter is now the Chief Economist of Citigroup, the US banking and finance giant.

Despite this last fact, Prof Buiter is an interesting economist. Although coming from the mainstream tradition, he is an independent thinker and pragmatic analyst who isn’t afraid to follow his analysis to unexpected conclusions. In the course of his lecture and in conversation afterwards, it seems he isn’t too constrained by his current corporate role. I hope he will forgive me for reproducing his thoughts here as accurately as I can. Continue reading Willem Buiter on Debt and Deficits

Debt and Deficits – Sustainable but Unfair

At the end of January 2010, UK government debt stood at £848bn and around 60% of GDP. The European Commission says ‘additional fiscal tightening measures’ are required. The Tories warn that investors are getting anxious and that the ratings agencies (who also certified the security of mortgage-backed derivatives) are about to downgrade the UK government’s debt, with the likely consequence of increased interest rates to pacify bond-holders.

Two-thirds of Treasury bonds are held by UK citizens and institutions – mainly banks and pension funds – that rely on them as secure and predictable basic assets. This is UK government money owed to UK citizens by the UK government. It is a purely internal redistribution of claims that cannot be compared, as it sometimes is, to household debt. The one-third of Treasury bonds held by foreign investors, such as other central banks and financial institutions, is a rather different story. Clearly these bond-holders have less direct interest in the long-run health of the UK economy, and so may and sometimes do, exert pressure on governments to increase the rates of return on the new bonds they issue. Were these rates of return to exceed a reasonable expectation of the political and economic tax revenue capacity of the UK government, then there would be difficulty in continuing to fund the current level of debt in the same way. In fact this situation seems a long way off. Currently interest rates are low, UK debt is not particularly high relative to other countries, and the UK has strong social and economic assets to back its liabilities. This makes UK government debt a particularly safe form of wealth in a time of economic turbulence and one that tightening capital regulations are likely to create even more demand for. The real question about the UK’s debt is not so much whether it is sustainable, but whether it is fair. Continue reading Debt and Deficits – Sustainable but Unfair